Tuttle publishing’s The Complete Musashi is the latest work to address the writings of that superlative Japanese bushi, Miyamoto Musashi-no-kami Genshin. Frankly I think this one stands apart from the other available translations.
First off, the book offers translations of several other writings that the general enthusiast may not be aware Musashi brushed, earlier works on martial strategy and combatives that the warrior wrote for early students and patrons, and that ultimately took shape as his master work, the Book of Five Rings. This is the first time some have been published in translation.
The translator, Dr. Alex Bennett, a martial artist and scholar living many decades in Japan, has the technical chops to understand the work, and the benefit of basing this translation on the groundbreaking work of Dr. Uozumi Takashi. Dr. Uozumi has been engaged in researching the famed warrior for many years, and previously published a piece (in English) in Budo Perspectives where he discussed his research methodology and some of additional documents that have been uncovered, shedding more light on the life, writing, and philosophy of this great man-at-arms. Suffice it to say, many of the details we think we know about Musashi’s life are either based on fiction, highly embellished, or flat out wrong.
Moreover, mistakes in previous copies of Go Rin no Sho, as well as missing sections that have been discovered and corrected, are all addressed in this book.
Kristopher McDuff drawing of John Danaher from VICE.
The great modern jiujitsu teacher John Danaher has discussed integrating military theory into the practice of jiujitsu, and that the art is “warfare on an individual scale.” This echoes Musashi’s writing directly, as he frequently compares the strategies of individual combat with that of entire armies of 10,000 men in pitched battles. Similarly, Musashi often waxes on how the Way of strategy sheds light on fundamental principles across all endeavors in life.
I’ve always found Musashi’s writing to be more accessible than other treatises on strategy and martial arts. He does not rely on allusions to Chinese classics, abstruse philosophizing, or quotes from Buddhists and Confucians, Musashi pretty much uses plain talk, though making note that one can only thoroughly understand something through unremitting practice, personal experience, and deep contemplation of lessons learned. His work is an ideal fit for Danaher’s approach to strategy applied to jiujitsu. Some of his articles address grappling directly.
Musashi offers much that is useful to modern tacticians and armed professionals. His emphases on initiative and combat psychology apply to any combative or tactical endeavor and make sense if the reader has experience in actual application or “live” disciplines. One still might wonder how writings dedicated to the use of the sword, an archaic weapon which no one uses today, outside of the occasional deranged individual waving one around on a public street, might apply, but in the Five Direction Sword Pathways – originally intended to be a preface to the Book of Five Rings until Musashi changed his mind – writes:
“When I engage in a fight, I draw both of my swords immediately. If I only have a short sword and no long sword, then I will fight with that. If I do not have a short sword, then I will resort to using my bare hands. One way or another, I will be victorious. Depending on the circumstances, a large sword [equal in length to the space between your outstretched arms] might not be sufficient, whereas a short one [the length of your thumb] might well be. There are times when you need to initiate the attack against a strong enemy. At other times you should hold back and wait for the right moment, even though the enemy is weak. Avoid prejudices and base your action on time and circumstances, maintaining your “center” [so that you can respond to anything freely]. The “center” is the “Universally Correct Way.” The center is precisely what the Way of combat strategy that I stand for is based on.”
pp. 209 -210
Musashi’s pragmatic strategy finds applications in a blade the length of outspread arms to one the size of a thumb; or any other weapon. Or bare hands. This is why I’ve always read and re-read him, and gleaned something each and every time.
Don’t judge the book by the cover, which I personally find cheesy and a little glaring.
I also don’t like the manga-esque drawings throughout the book. They are fine work, I just don’t like them intermixed with the material at hand. I look forward to a later edition where these are eliminated and more subdued cover and interior are presented.
Otherwise, get this book.